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Foreign press: Protests force Gov’t to repeal emergency ordinance

The Romanian Government on Saturday gave in under the pressure of mass popular protests and announced it would repeal the emergency ordinance amending the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code, an ordinance that generated protests whose scale was unprecedented since the fall of communism, AFP, EFE and Reuters informed.

The Government thus hopes to allay the anger of hundreds of thousands of Romanians who took to the streets every day asking for the repeal of the decree that the Government adopted on Tuesday without Parliament’s approval.

The protesters, many of whom are also asking for the resignation of the Government sworn in a month ago, promised to remain mobilised and to continue the protests. On Saturday, more than 300,000 persons, according to the press, took to the streets in over 70 cities across the country, for the fifth consecutive evening, Reuters informed.

On Sunday, “we will urgently hold a Government meeting to repeal this ordinance,” Premier Sorin Grindeanu announced, stating that he does not want “to divide Romania” with this criminal law reform that would have significantly lowered the sentences for abuse of power and would have set a minimum ceiling of RON 200,000 (EUR 44,000) for the financial damages related to abuse of power.

The crowds protesting outside the Government building in Bucharest cheered when hearing the announcement.

Protests drew around 200,000 people across Romania every day, a record since the fall of communism in this country of 20 million people which has experienced numerous political turbulences in recent decades.

Centre-right President Klaus Iohannis, in open conflict with the Government, welcomed “an important step toward normalisation.”

Prior to that, on Saturday, Social Democratic Party (PSD) President Liviu Dragnea had admitted the need to find a solution to the crisis.

The Premier reiterated that the Government’s motivation was to set the Criminal Code in line with the Constitution. Likewise, the Government also claimed that it wanted to address the prison overcrowding issue.

A new bill will be drafted and sent to Parliament, after talks with the Opposition, EFE writes. The bill will no longer include the RON 200,000 ceiling for abuse of power, Sorin Grindeanu pointed out.

An emergency ordinance sparked fears it would obstruct the anticorruption fight at a time when, under the pressure of the EU and of highly-assertive magistrates, hundreds of embezzlement cases have been opened in recent years in Romania, marking a turning point for the country’s judiciary.

The Government was accused of seeking to solve the legal problems of the PSD leader, who is currently on trial in a case concerning fictitious employments. The European Commission and the U.S. State Department have expressed their concern in this sense. In an unusual overture, the embassies of the United States, Canada, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Belgium published on Wednesday a joint statement in which they expressed their “deep concern” following the adoption of this ordinance which “undermines” progress in the fight against corruption and, according to Reuters, undermines Romania’s international reputation and partnerships in the EU and NATO.

Liviu Dragnea, having already received a two-year suspended prison sentence in another case, rejected the allegations that he would be one of the beneficiaries of the emergency ordinance, blaming a misinformation campaign.

On the other hand, the Government sent to Parliament this week a bill on the pardoning of 2,500 convicts, with some convicted officials being among them, which also drew criticism.

Driven away out of office at the end of 2015 by anti-corruption protests, but triumphally elected in last December’s legislative elections, PSD – constantly at the centre of political life after the fall of communism – was particularly hard-hit by National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) investigations, accusing the latter of engaging in a witch-hunt, AFP informs.

On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people from all over the country were expected in Bucharest to take part in the protest in Victoriei Square, where the seat of Government is located, EFE informs.

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